Royce White was chosen by the Houston Rockets as the 16th pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA player-draft.  Although Mr. White signed a contract for $3.4 million per year, he has now refused to play for the Rockets until they stipulate that he is mentally ill and agree that he shall not be required to play on days when his personal psychiatrist thinks he should not play.  Mr. White thinks his mental condition, though abnormal, is not unusual; he believes that he, and most other NBA basketball players, and for that matter most Americans, are mentally ill.

White’s Position.

Here is the essence of Mr. White’s theory, as he explains in being interviewed by Chuck Klosterman of Grantland.Com on 1/30/13:  “It’s no secret that 2 percent of the human population controls all the wealth and the resources, and the other 98 percent struggle their whole life to try and attain it. Right? And what ends up happening is that the 2 percent leave the 98 percent to struggle and struggle and struggle, and they eventually build up these stresses and conditions.” Mr. White, despite his huge income from a contract based upon his being a high draft-choice, considers himself part of the 98% and, accordingly, mentally ill, a victim of “late capitalism” (as the interviewer puts it).  As further evidence to support his claim of mental illness, Mr. White cites his fear of flying.

Is He Mentally Ill?

But wait a minute:  I don’t like flying either; I hate to fly, and I do it because I have to.  I also think I am part of the 98%, not the 2%.  Does that mean I am mentally ill, too?  Reading all of this, it is hard not to think of Captain Yossarian in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, who could not obtain a Section 8 (a medical discharge from the Air Force during WW II) by pretending to be insane, because his superior officers saw his desire to get out of flying as a sign of sanity (hence “Catch-22”).  Maybe Mr. White is nuts.  Maybe we all are.  So what?

What If He Is In Fact Mentally Ill – What Happens Next?

Mr. White, an enormous and well-coordinated human being, has been collecting that $3.4 million salary for the better part of a year and has been living large.  Though “large” does not necessarily mean that much of a step-up for one who has spent 4 years as a Division I basketball star; it has presumably been many years since Mr. White last had to worry about the cost of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, or entertainment.  Meanwhile, however, Mr. White has yet to shoot a basket in anger as a professional or to practice with his team, because he is holding out until his demands are accommodated.  It is not clear, from the Klosterman interview, whether that means Mr. White’s dream contract would still pay him the same $3.4 million if he were only cleared to play in, say, half the Rockets’ games, or if he would accept a mere  one-half of the $3.4 million for his half-time services, or if he would accept an even bigger deduction based upon the harm caused to the team by its having to plan around the uncertainty of whether he would show up for any particular game.  From that perspective, you have to wonder whether Mr. White realizes that he appears to be demanding, in effect, that he be paid a lot of money regardless of whether he plays or sits.

What Outcome Does He Expect?

No matter how much of an anti-capitalist Mr. White may really be, can he possibly imagine that the Rockets – or anyone – would pay him big-time money every year for a season in which he might play in all 82 games, but might not?  What else can his demands possibly mean – are there to be no consequences for missing games?  If he only has to play when his shrink thinks it would be OK, shouldn’t he receive something less than the entire $3.4 million per season?  Isn’t that the heart of the matter?

What Is Likely To Happen?

The Rockets could, of course, agree to consult regularly with Mr. White’s doctor and use reasonable efforts to show special consideration in travel-arrangements and in all kinds of other ways, but they would be truly nuts to sign a contract that might require them to pay for services NOT performed.  I mean, the man may indeed be mentally ill, but how about we cut to the chase and address the heart of the matter?  Is this just a negotiating tactic, or is he really intending not to play when it inevitably turns out that the Rockets cannot give him the contract he claims he seeks?  Is he willing to limit his lifetime earnings to the limited amount he makes off of his 15 minutes (or one aborted season) of fame?  Unless Mr. White is a lot dumber than he looks and sounds, he is playing us all, and this is nothing more, nor less, than a sophomoric political statement:  capitalism stinks.  Once Mr. White has fully exploited the wackiness and gullibility of the contemporary American political and social scene, this theatrical production will close.

Prediction:   a revised contract with appropriate financial penalties for every game missed because of doctor’s orders, with additional penalties and possible termination of employment in the event of more than (X) number of such absences in a single season, coupled with promises by the Rockets to make certain special accommodations – such as special travel arrangements that eliminate or minimize air travel, and perhaps reimbursement of any portion of his mental-health care expenses that is not reimbursed under the team’s regular healthcare plan because of deductibles, co-pays, and exclusions.  A simple, obvious solution.


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